travel & foreign landsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Costa Rica with the family? Do it!

No Gravatar

When we decided to go to Costa Rica for vacation this year, it was like learning a new word: All of a sudden, it was everywhere. Many friends, it turns out, had spent time in Costa Rica, and they all recommended it for a family trip. They were right. Our 12-day journey featured jungle treks, ziplining, superb beaches, and lots of interesting animals (including a few roommates). Here are few things we learned, some the hard way, which may help those thinking of Costa Rica for a vacation.

Friendly people. I know, I’m from the City of Brotherly Love metropolis, so I should inherently believe people are nice, but I was still struck by the overall helpfulness and kindness of the Costa Ricans and those traveling there.

Rainy season=rain. When they say June is the rainy season, they’re not lying. It rained all day every day our first few days in Arenal. We were prepared and did our thing anyway, but know that some things you bring will get wet on day one and will stay that way until you get home.

Five’s a crowd. Booking for five people was a challenge, especially via Expedia; we had to indicate four travelers or were automatically pushed to two rooms. We disclosed #5 upon arriving at our various lodgings, and the real surprise was the extra person fee we paid, which over 12 days cost us about $750.

Ziplining/canopy tours. Our ziplining experience in Montverde (through Extremo) was as good as billed, and more. Even the little guy in red, who doesn’t like heights, loved it.

Costa Rica 15 ziplining

Ziplining at Monteverde.

Driving. I’m back to write my blog (I know you’re psyched), so we survived. But the driving was adventurous for various reasons:

  • Proper equipment. We’re cheap. Here’s what happened when we went to get our four-door Nissan sedan. The nice man at the rental agency asked where we were going. I told him our trip included Arenal, Monteverde, and Manual Antonio. Upon hearing Monteverde, he said, and I quote, “You will not make it in that car. You need four-wheel drive.” I glanced at my wife, who was pretending to look at a rack of cheap t-shirts. She shook her head vigorously. He suggested we increase our insurance — for $10 a day. More vigorous head-shaking. He then suggested GPS. Head-shaking. At that point, I walked over to her and used an unmild expletive. She insisted we were getting duped. So off we went. Fifteen minutes later, we were lost in a mountain town in which I was driving our under-insured, non-GPS wielding sedan the wrong way down a one-way street…
  • Proper directions. Our directions were dandy but were in miles. The car’s odometer was in kilometers, like everyplace else in the world (c’mon USA, let’s get with it!).
  • Signs? Our dandy directions operated under the ludicrous assumption that there would be road signs. There were not. Except in the southern beach areas, even connections of major roads didn’t feature signs.
  • Sidewalks? People (and their pet cows and dogs) just walk around wherever, and “wherever” often includes the center of roads.
  • Paved roads? With apologies to those who hate all taxes, paved roads are good. The way from Tilaran to Monteverde was more a “track” than a road; it included boulders and potholes large enough to bathe your pet cow in.

Habla, uh… So many people spoke English that it took the edge off my anger at my pathetic Spanish knowledge and more so the potential fury at my kids’ linguistic ineptness despite like nearly 20 years of Spanish instruction among them.

Great food. The food is great and pretty fairly priced. In Santa Elana near Monteverde we found a new top five restaurant for our family: The Cafe Orchid Coffee Shop.

Imperial beer is good. I might have had one or two — c’mon, it’s a family vacation and things get edgy sometimes.

Soccer. My children love soccer. So does Costa Rica. An older guy on the beach was walking around with a square cooler in each hand, selling rice pudding. Some kids kicked a ball his way, and without breaking stride, he did like 25 juggles. Yeah.

Guides. We’re, by nature, the kind of people who eschew guided experiences. In many reserves and parks, such as Monteverde and Manual Antonio, there are options for guided tours. We said no, but that might not have been the best choice. Guides are expensive (see above about head-shaking), especially because they often charge by the person, so an $80 visit can balloon up to $200, but these folks see stuff you won’t. We traipsed 100 ft. into Manual Antonio, and there was a guide reviewing the pictures with two people of all the amazing animals they had already seen. Us? We saw some leaves (it got better, though). And there’s Kevin, the orchid master. One of my kids’ most engaged afternoons was spent in the Monteverde Orchid Garden with him — because he knew so much cool stuff.

Dolla dolla bill ya’ll. We never exchanged money. We paid for almost everything, from road tolls to coconut milk on the beach, with dollars and got colóns back. The exchanges we got in this way seemed far better than that in banks and airports. We did withdraw money from ATMs three times. This was painless and the fee was just a few dollars.

Speaking of that coconut milk… We paid $1 for coconut milk on the beach. It was delicious. But I later watched a surfer pick up a coconut off the ground, smash it against the tree, and drink what looked pretty delicious too.

Critters. When I get back from a trip, I always want to re-think all my life practices. Still, the Costa Ricans’ relationship with nature deserves some thought by us hermetically-sealed Americans. Things are open; dealing with animals is part of life. When a two-foot iguana wanders up during lunch, you accept it (which is not the same as touching it). Same when there’s a gecko or scorpion (okay, a very small one) in your room. I admit I was a big baby about the gecko, but it was only night two and I just caught a glimpse of a lizardy tail scurrying behind the AC as I went to bed. I was convinced it was going to jump on my head. Why? Because of my dysfunctional relationship with nature.

Pay out. Upon leaving there is a $29 exit tax. I had the equivalent amount in colóns, but it turned out the fee was included in American Airlines’ tickets. So I had colóns to burn. My wife and daughter took care of all that in the gift shop.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
Print This Post Print This Post

2 Responses to “Costa Rica with the family? Do it!”

  1. I wasn’t going to, but can’t help myself….Who books a trip to a tropical rainforest during rainy season?!!!
    FYI there is a great little resort in Peninsula Papagayo that was sunny and 85 every day……in February! No critters in the rooms and they brought you drinks to your beach chair. To each his own….you cheap bastard…..

  2. Sounds like an awesome time. A very enjoyable article with all the appropriate travel advice one would expect from seasoned travelers such as yourself. The lack of street signs reminds me of DC.

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment